Wanted: Cow elephants to replace aging population

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Wanted: Cow elephants to replace aging population


Korean zoos are facing a jumbo-sized problem.

With cow elephants in Korean zoos long past the age of giving birth, senior diplomats are now struggling to find ways to bring young cow elephants to Korea.

Because an international agreement of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora prohibits governments from selling and buying elephants, the diplomats are asking elephant-rich nations such as Cambodia to donate some young cow elephants in return for economic assistance.

“It will be a serious problem if elephants disappear from the zoos, because they’re the most beloved animals among children,” said Lee Hyeon-ho, an official at the state-run Seoul Zoo. The zoo has a brace of 28-year-old elephants, but the cow is too old to get pregnant, Lee explained.

“We’ve tried various means to bring in new elephants from overseas, but it wasn’t easy at all,” he said.

The Korean Association of Zoos and Aquariums says it has only nine elephants registered, and all are past the menopausal stage. Without new cow elephants, there will be no newborn calves.

So the Foreign Ministry sprang into action to keep the country’s future elephant population steady.

Because several elephant-rich nations such as India and Thailand rigidly protect their elephant population, the Korean government couldn’t even suggest they donate some elephants here. So the government has anchored its hopes on Cambodia, which has both a large population of elephants and close ties to the Korean government. Foreign Ministry officials are mulling over providing the poor country with economic assistance in return for a handful of cow elephants.

But another hurdle awaits the diplomats.

“There’s not a consensus about the age of the elephants we need, and we need to work on this issue,” said a diplomat who asked not to be named. “If the working-level officials from the both sides fail to reach agreement on this issue, it could become an agenda item at a summit.”

Cambodia actually had expressed its intention to donate cow elephants of about 20 years old, according to the diplomat, but the Korean government wanted 5-year-olds who would be young and strong enough to give birth to many calves.

Another diplomat expressed concern that if Korea can’t win elephants from Cambodia, it could face a worst-case scenario - no more elephants in the zoos.

“We have a mission to ensure that children will be able to see elephants in the zoos, and we’ll work hard to make that happen,” the diplomat said.

By E Choong-hyeong, Kim Mi-ju [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]
Related Korean Article

고위 외교관, 중국동남아 돌며 확보 나서

“새끼를 잘 낳을 젊은 ‘암코끼리’를 확보하라.”

한국 외교가에 암코끼리 비상이 걸렸다. 국내 동물원에서 살고 있는 암코끼리는 대부분 폐경기가 한참 지난 30대 이상의 ‘할머니 코끼리’다. 새끼를 밸 수 있는 젊은 암코끼리의 씨가 마르다시피 해 이대로 방치하다간 코끼리 대가 끊어질 판이다.

실제로 한국동물원수족관협회에 등록된 국내 코끼리 수는 9마리가 전부다. 서울 어린이대공원엔 한 마리에 불과하고 과천 서울대공원엔 28세 동갑내기 암수 코끼리 한 쌍, 45세 암코끼리 한 마리가 있다. 45세 코끼리는 임신이 불가능하고, 28세 코끼리 역시 나이가 많아 임신이 되지 않고 있다.
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